By Malcolm Rivera / South Kern Sol
ARVIN, Calif. — Mr. Larry Hallum, a former teacher of mine at Arvin High School, could always be overheard telling his students, “Education is the key to your future.” Now, he is one of many community leaders and residents here calling for the creation of an Arvin college center.
The idea of building a college center, meaning a campus that does not confer degrees but instead operates under the umbrella of an already accredited college – in this case, Bakersfield College (BC) — has been spoken about for years, and now finally seems to be gaining steam among local decision makers.
“A center would create a college culture, more jobs and make a huge economic impact,” said Arvin city councilmember Jose Gurrola, 19, himself a former BC student. “It means that my city of Arvin and its residents can lift themselves out of poverty and break the cycle of farm work,” he added.
The push for an Arvin college center, however, may be a case of too little too late.
In 2010 the City of Arvin set aside 25 acres of land for the sole purpose of building a college center. However, no further action was taken, and now Arvin will likely have to get in line for a new college center. The next area in Kern County slated to receive a college center is the sparsely populated area where Highway 99 and Bear Mountain Boulevard meet.
“The [Kern Community College] District and the board are dedicated to serving the entire community,” said chancellor Sandra Serrano. “This location (Bear Mountain Blvd.) was chosen to serve multiple areas.”
Serrano stated that the time it would take for students from the Lamont/Arvin area to get to the center would be only about 10 minutes by car. The location would also serve residents of South Bakersfield and Frazier Park.
Serrano said the possibility of Arvin’s request for a college center being taken up by the district is slim, due to plans for a new center at Bear Mountain Boulevard.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is dead in the water.
“We don’t have current plans to begin construction (at Bear Mountain Boulevard),” said Serrano.
With this in mind, a sliver of hope remains for backers of a college center in Arvin.
Dr. Jim Young, chancellor emeritus of the Kern Community College District, has spearheaded the fight for an Arvin college center since 2002.
“A college center would attract industries interested in a local labor force,” Young articulated.
Another college center recently opened in nearby Delano, he said, gives a good indication of the types of benefits that a college center would bring to a town like Arvin. Young cited the technical courses offered to Delano residents in various career fields, leading to a more skilled and diverse workforce.
“The college [in Delano] has made the whole city thrive. They have a more educated populace, and a stronger community because of it,” he said.
There doesn’t seem to be any lack of support for a college center on the part of students.
“Gas money and transportation are often expensive,” said 19 year-old Bakersfield College student Jesus Cuen. “I would take advantage of the courses that are near me.”
Frank Clemente, 20, a former BC student, agreed that having access to a college center in Arvin “would allow more students to have the opportunity to take various classes and not have to drive 30 plus minutes to get to school.”
Clemente referred to the drive from Lamont or Arvin to the Panorama campus at Bakersfield College, which typically takes 30 minutes but can take much longer due to heavy traffic. The next closest option for college courses is Taft College – about a two-hour commute back and forth for residents of Lamont and Arvin. The commute, he said, is an extra burden for residents of these working class communities who typically have much more on their plate than college, such as jobs and family obligations.
“Community college students, for the most part, do not only go to school. They have their lives to worry about,” he emphasized.
When asked what Arvin and Lamont residents can do to support the creation of a college center, Gurrola offered these suggestions:
“Be more active; inform their neighbors and themselves. Attend city council meetings, and contact representatives like Rudy Salas, Congressman Valadao, and Leticia Perez.”